Friday, November 26, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 1)

When I began Flavors of Brazil a year or so ago, one of the things I hoped to do with this blog involved traveling to cities and regions of culinary interest in this vast country, and passing on what I saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted while traveling to the readers of the blog. A more local, less extravagantly exuberant, perhaps less talented definitely less famous, Anthony Bourdain was how I pictured it. (Dream big, I always say)

Soon those plans will come to fruition, if all goes according to plans. A few weeks ago, I happened to note on the internet that the upstart Brazilian airlines Azul (owned by the Brazilian-American owner of JetBlue) was opening new routes from Fortaleza in December with tremendous promotional prices during the first couple of weeks of operation. One of the routes was from Fortaleza to São Luís, the capital of nearby Maranhão state. Only an hour's flight away, tickets were R$80 (USD $50) each way. At that price, there was no excuse for Flavors of Brazil not to experience the city and the unique cuisine of Maranhão. So, at the end of next week, Flavors of Brazil will zoom off to São Luís, then return a few days later loaded with photos, videos, stories and taste-memories to share here on the blog.

Maranhão is culturally unique among the states of Brazil in lots of ways, including traditional gastronomy. Early European exploration and colonization was not by the Portuguese but rather by the French, and São Luís was founded in 1621 by the French who named it after their saintly king St. Louis. Later the Portuguese expelled the French and then were expelled themselves by the Dutch. Finally, Portuguese forces conquered the state one last time from the Dutch and were able to retain possession. Because of transportation and communication difficulties with other Portuguese possessions in South America, Maranhão was an independent Portuguese colony until the late 18th century, and was not a part of newly-independent Brazil at the time of its formation in 1822. It joined Brazil two years later.
São Luís, Centro histórico

São Luís is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, and its historical center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Narrow cobblestone streets, buildings faced with blue and white tiles, baroque palaces - all give São Luís a distinct architectural personality, making it look very European, and more specifically Portuguese.

Maranhão's demographics differ from neighboring states, with significant black and native Indian populations - though the large majority of the population is of mixed heritage. The state has its own distinct way of speaking, and the Portuguese of Maranhão is considered the closest of European Portuguese of any state of Brazil.

The state is among the poorest in Brazil, with the second-lowest per capita GDP in Brazil. In 2007, the latest year available statistically, Maranhão's GDP was only R$5,165. That's approximately USD $3000 per year.

In upcoming posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll discuss the cuisine of this intriguing state in preparation for the visit. And when I'm back, readers of this blog will be the first to hear all about it.


  1. Interreting and concise perspective of Maranhão. It would have been interesting to know these things when visiting there in 1987.

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